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August 20, 2018

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Analysis:

‘Cocky little guy’ Marchessault is becoming a Golden Knights folk hero

Marchessault arrives in style, plays with grace in Game 3 win over the Jets

Image

Steve Marcus

Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault (81) celebrates after scoring during the first period of Game 3 in an NHL Western Conference Finals at T-Mobile Arena, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

If Jonathan Marchessault would have driven his customized Golden Knights Lamborghini to Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in the same manner he skated, he may have been arrested and unavailable to play.

Luckily, the Golden Knights’ postseason points leader saved the speeding for the ice. He topped out within 30 seconds of the first home game of the series against the Winnipeg Jets.

Golden Knights Beat Jets 4-2 in Game 3

The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate after scoring during the first period of Game 3 in an NHL Western Conference Finals at T-Mobile Arena, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. WADE VANDERVORT Launch slideshow »

Golden Knights Beat Jets in Game 3

Vegas Golden Knights fans cheer after scoring in the first minute against the Winnipeg Jets during Game 3 of their NHL hockey Western Conference Final game Wednesday, May 16, 2018, at T-Mobile Arena. Launch slideshow »

Marchessault took off, the “81” on the back of his jersey blurring, as soon as Brayden McNabb poked the puck away from the Jets during their first trip into the offensive zone. Jacob Trouba, the Jets’ top defenseman, had a head start but moved like a semi-truck next to Marchessault, who corralled the loose puck and spun goalie Connor Hellebuyck silly with his second straight backhanded goal of the series.

Marchessault’s third overall goal of the last two games and seventh of the playoffs set the tone for Vegas’ 4-2 victory over Winnipeg Wednesday night to take a 2-1 series lead.

He also put the finishing touches on the win with three seconds remaining by scoring on an empty net.

The final goal gave him his 92nd point of the overall season, surpassing William Karlsson's 90-point total for the team-high. Marchessault belongs at the top of this team; he represents so much of what’s great about the Golden Knights.

The team’s production staff treated the announced attendance of 18,477 fans to another adrenaline-pumping pregame package full of soundbites about how a team of outcasts in the desert could never make an impact in its inaugural season. Marchessault almost certainly heard some of it — not that he needed to.

One gets the sense that, like so many great athletes before him, all the slights are ever on his mind — headlined by the Florida Panthers leaving him unprotected in last June’s expansion draft. At a time when coach Gerard Gallant and other players downplay the season-long bond from being a team of castoffs, Marchessault is still openly embracing it.

After his assertive Game 2 performance, he noted how none of the Golden Knights were considered to be “the center of our (old) teams.” It’s easy to see how Marchessault has internalized perceived shortcomings in his own career.

Reportedly not protected by the Panthers in part because of a concerning plus/minus — he was minus-21 for the season last year — Marchessault responded by ranking second in the NHL in the regular season behind Karlsson with a plus-36. He’s also now tied for the playoff lead with Washington’s Brooks Orpik at plus-12.

And the best part? He’ll never draw the ire of Kendrick Lamar and fake humble because someone else is insecure.

“He’s a cocky little guy,” Gallant said with a smirk earlier in the day. “He jumps around in the locker room, he has a lot of fun. He has lots to say. Our players love Marchy. Some people might take him the wrong way, but I know in our locker room, our group, they really like him a lot.”

So much, it seems, that they often take on the 5-foot-9 fireball’s personality. Maybe it’s a partial Napoleon complex, maybe it’s a simple desire to prove everyone wrong.

Whatever it is, the Golden Knights do it well.

Two of the Jets’ most commonly cited advantages coming into Game 3 were their power play and defense. The Golden Knights might have put together their best penalty kill of the postseason in the first period with the Jets finding virtually no scoring chances, and their only other one of the game went almost as smoothly.

Marc-Andre Fleury was as sharp as ever in net with 33 saves, but he didn’t have to do much for the first half of the game. The Golden Knights’ defense was relentless, particularly in the first period when they allowed only three shots on goal.

After this win, the whole team deserves to walk like Marchessault when he exited his Lamborghini pregame, a gait that may surpass one of Conor McGregor’s strolls into the octagon for the most confident entrance in T-Mobile Arena history.

Marchessault wasn’t one of the more popular Golden Knights during the season. His jersey sales seem to pale in comparison to the likes of Fleury, James Neal, Karlsson and even the injury-reserve designated Clayton Stoner — ah, the perks of a last name.

That’s going to change quickly if Marchessault’s tear leads the Golden Knights to two more wins and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. It should probably change either way.

With apologies to Chance the Raptor, Marchessault is the most fitting mascot of this continually extraordinary team.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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